Oneness, wholeness, non-dual awareness, unity …
If you’ve been on the spiritual path for a while you’ve probably heard of these words and concepts at some point.
But what do these concepts actually mean?
Although they may seem complex, a little vague or confusing, they don’t have to be. My goal for this article is to help you develop a clear and concise understanding of these topics so that you can confidently say, “yeah, I know what that means and I’ve experienced it!”
YES. You can directly experience oneness and wholeness. I’m not pushing a dogma or intellectual doctrine here – oneness and wholeness can be felt by anyone. There’s no secret or elite club here. No matter what age, gender, race, background, intellect or level of spiritual development you have, oneness and wholeness is your birthright. In other words, not only do you have the right to experience it, but it is an integral part of your destiny as a spiritual seeker.
In this article, I’m going to explain the best ways to directly feel and embody this sacred way of being. There are no quick fix solutions. This isn’t an “instant enlightenment” type of article (because let’s face it, on the spiritual path there are no legitimate quick fixes). But it does aim to help you dip your toes, even just briefly, into the experience of spiritual oneness and wholeness.
What is Oneness (or Wholeness)?
How is it possible to condense the entirety of existence into what feels like a tiny speck of sand? It’s damn difficult, but I’ll try to summarize it all for you.
Oneness is an experience that transcends the mind. When we experience oneness, we feel a connection with everything in existence on every level. In other words, we feel ‘at one’ with all things.
Wholeness, which is a word I use interchangeably with oneness, is the feeling of fullness, vastness, and completion – it is the experience of embodying our true nature, the Self that exists beyond our scrawny and limited personalities (also known as our egos).
Why is it So Hard to Experience Oneness and Wholeness?
Our minds fragment life.
Put simply, the reason why it is so difficult and rare for us to experience oneness and wholeness is that our minds won’t let us.
While our minds help us to plan, imagine, create, structure and logically understand life, they also simultaneously fragment existence. When life is broken down into thoughts, concepts, ideas, and beliefs, we cannot directly experience the Oneness of everything. Instead, we perceive life through a broken lens. Until we can take off those cracked glasses, we will continue to see ourselves as isolated and separate little entities who see the world in black and white.
The problem is that most of us have forgotten that we are wearing those cracked glasses. We live most of our lives believing that we are our thoughts and limited mental identities. We’re kind of like fish who have forgotten what the concept of water is. The only reality we have been conditioned to live in is the one dominated by the mind. We forget that we’re so much more than our thoughts and mental stories. We lose touch with our true nature.
Contrary to popular belief, oneness and wholeness are not “special” experiences – they are actually the most natural and normal states of being possible. But from the perspective of the mind, they seem truly novel and exciting because they’re such a rarity!
Because our minds dominate so much of our lives we also tend to feel internally fragmented. The nature of the mind is to seek understanding and safety. And in order to understand life and be safe, we must see some things as “good” and some things as “bad.” Splitting life into good/bad and right/wrong is a very natural process because it helps us to survive. If we didn’t have the capacity to split life into opposites, we wouldn’t be able to understand that stepping in front of oncoming traffic is fatal (or “bad”) and letting our children play with knives is dangerous (“bad”). But at the same time, splitting life into polarities also creates tremendous suffering in us. Why? Because we grow up learning that some parts of us are “good” while other parts of us are “bad.” We then attach to the “good” parts of ourselves and repress or deny the “bad” parts of ourselves.
What happens when we start to perceive ourselves in a fragmented way?
The answer is that we feel flawed, lacking, “not good enough,” and incomplete. We start to feel insecure, anxious, lonely, depressed, and in some extreme cases suicidal. Our essence has been diluted. We feel fake and inauthentic. Emptiness haunts us. We greatly crave to love and embrace ourselves, but how can we fully accept who we are when we hate some parts of ourselves and love other parts? This is why integration is so important. Integration is the opposite of fragmentation. When we integrate, we unite different parts of ourselves which may have been missing for years or decades. When we seek integration, we are seeking oneness and wholeness. We’ll explore the subject of integration more a little later.
Ultimately, oneness and wholeness seem so alien to us because we perceive our inner and external worlds through the fragmented lens of the mind. And by the way … the whole concept of an inner and outer world is itself a division created by the mind! Do you see how deeply embedded into our realities the mind and its concepts are?
Is Oneness the Same as Enlightenment?
Like oneness and wholeness, the term ‘enlightenment’ is also written and spoken about a lot. But are they the same thing? Yes. In my perspective, they are the same thing. However, I don’t like using the phrase enlightenment because it’s such a loaded word.
Oneness and wholeness to me feel more embodied. I personally resonate way more with these terms than enlightenment which seems very cerebral and overly focused on the “light” aspect of existence, which itself is one-sided. In my experience, the point of our existence as humans is about embracing both our humanity AND divinity – not just focusing on the “love and light” aspects of spirituality which bypass anything too raw and real. The spiritual journey is not just about ascending. We also need to descend. We need to dive into the dark waters of our minds and do some soul-searching. We need to get comfortable with the blood, dirt, and grit of being human. To avoid our wild side is to avoid, deny, and disown a major and essential aspect of us: our divine and messy humanity. As such, wherever possible I try to avoid the phrase enlightenment as it seems too lopsided. Oneness and wholeness feel more holistic and realistic – these terms feel truer. But ultimately, no words can truly describe the experience that is being pointed to here. That, to me, is the most essential thing to remember here.
How to Experience Oneness and Wholeness
There is no “instant bliss” pill for experiencing oneness and wholeness.
I want to be realistic and clear with you hear: the tools and practices I’ll be recommending aren’t an “instant bliss” pill. I would caution you to be careful of anyone who tries to sell you “enlightenment-in-5-easy-steps” because there’s no such thing. Wholeness isn’t like instant noodles. I’m not going to churn out some Buzzfeed, clickbait advice because that would dishonor how truly laborious the pursuit of oneness and wholeness is. Countless people have spent their entire lives trying to catch even a glimpse of this sacred experience.
So with the utmost respect for the true labor, commitment, and intensity needed for this path, I offer you five helpful tools. There are countless practices out there, but I have included only those that I have personally experienced and found helpful. So I encourage you to both pay attention to and also look beyond the scope of the tools presented here.
- Meditation and mindfulness
Yes, this might seem cliche, but just because meditation and mindfulness have entered the mainstream market it doesn’t mean that they lack true value. Certainly, the approach many modern teachers have towards meditation is secularized and watered-down. But there are many ancient techniques – such as Vipassana (thought awareness) and Anapanasati (breathing awareness) meditation – which help you to gain direct insight into the nature of your mind. Mindfulness is another simple way of gaining access to the experience of oneness. Mindfulness means paying attention to the present moment. Ironically, mindFULLness is less about the mind and more about sharpening your awareness and ability to live in the present moment. More accurately, it can be thought of mindLESSness (without the negative connotations). Many glimpses of peace and inner wholeness can be experienced through these two popular practices.
- Solitary nature immersion
Spending time alone surrounded by nature is another beautiful way of accessing a state of wholeness and oneness. Training yourself to simply observe nature as a passive form of meditation is nourishing to the soul and can fill you with a sense of peace. I have found myself so soothed by the presence of trees and birds around me that I have temporarily become One with everything around me. Nature immersion is a powerful practice for many mental and physical ailments, so it is worth experimenting with.
- Mind-altering plant medicine
Powerful and life-changing moments of oneness and wholeness are common to experience while taking various forms of plant medicine. If you’re interested in exploring this path, I recommend seeking out a genuine shaman or spiritual guide who can support you through such experiences as they can often be intense and overwhelming. (On that note, it’s best to keep away from any type of plant medicine if you have a severe mental illness.) Examples of plant medicine include ayahuasca, San Pedro, psilocybin mushrooms, peyote, DMT, and marijuana. How do these plants help us experience moments or periods of oneness and wholeness? The answer is that they temporarily remove, alter or distort the fragmented lens of the mind. Once the veil of our limited perception has been removed, there is space for us to experience a more whole and integrated version of reality. I can frankly say that plant medicine has changed my life. I have had some intense and paradigm-shifting experiences of ego death and merging with all of existence. Skeptics suggest that such experiences are meaningless hallucinations, but these profound glimpses into the Ultimate Reality have been validated by my own sober everyday experience. The only thing I can say is that you must experience it to believe it. If you haven’t tried plant medicine yet, I recommend doing some thorough research and giving it a try.
- Inner work that focuses on integration
There are many forms of inner work, but not all of them focus on exploring, accepting, and integrating the repressed and rejected parts of you. While this path can be slow, it is – in my perspective and experience – the deepest work you can do. There are no quick fixes here. In order to have more than a fleeting glimpse of oneness and wholeness, you must make the unconscious conscious. As luminary Carl Jung once said:
Wholeness is not achieved by cutting off a portion of one’s being, but by integration of the contraries.
We must seek to reunite with the lost parts of ourselves and develop psychological balance. Only then can we experience authentic spiritual oneness. Examples of integration-centered inner work include shadow work and inner child work.
- REAL Self-love, compassion, and acceptance
Love is the most expansive feeling and reality there is. When we truly and genuinely love someone or something from the depths of our being, all barriers are torn down. All mental constructs are obliterated. All division disintegrates. All that remains is openness, expansiveness, and yes, the experience of oneness. As humans having a spiritual experience we have a complex relationship with ourselves that is often defined by extreme highs and lows. Sometimes we think we’re the cat’s pajamas, and other times we feel like a pile of turd. But if we can manage to embrace both the highs and lows and truly understand the nature of our minds, we can experience real self-love. When we can embrace both our humanity and divinity, we can experience self-compassion and self-acceptance. These qualities and practices are essential on the spiritual path. Without learning to love ourselves in all our weirdness and wildness, it’s impossible to fully open to the experience of wholeness and oneness.